Senate Democrats took a series of actions Tuesday seeking to assist the LGBT community — one action for the LGBT youth, two others for LGBT elders — both of which are subgroups that have a history of unique challenges.
In a pair of letters dated Nov. 7, U.S. Sens. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) led 21 senators in calling on the Trump administration to ensure programs designed to combat youth homelessness reach LGBT people and include LGBT elders in health surveys.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) — along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act, which seeks to improve services available for LGBT elders.
The letters, sent to both the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, bases its call to action on President Trump’s promise during his 2016 campaign to be a friend to LGBT people.
“During the campaign, President Trump said that he would ‘do everything in [his] power to protect LGBTQ citizens.’ We write to you because the administration is not living up to the president’s promise,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to reverse course on actions that will make it more challenging for programs you oversee to serve LGBTQ Americans.”
Specifically, the letter to the Justice Department expresses concern two federal grant programs that combat homelessness — DOJ’s Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation & Domestic Sex Trafficking Initiative and HHS’ Street Outreach Program — will no longer focus on LGBT youth because this year’s funding requirement “removed that requirement as well as all mentions of LGBTQ youth.”
“As LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for running away and becoming homeless compared to their peers, and therefore more likely to be victimized, we are concerned about the effect these administration decisions would have on these vulnerable youth,” the letter says.
Meanwhile, the letter to the Department of Health & Human Services calls for restoration of questions allowing respondents to identify as transgender in the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants as well as LGBT on the Centers for Independent Living Annual Program Performance Report. (HHS has previously removed the sexual-orientation question from the NSOAPP, but reinstated it under public pressure.)
“In order to ensure that key programs for older adults and people with disabilities are meeting the needs of the entire LGBTQ community, we once again reiterate our call for HHS to restore the gender-identity question to the NSOAPP and to collect information on sexual orientation and gender identity on the CILPPR,” the letter says.
Additionally, the letter expresses concern about the withdrawal of a proposed HHS rule that would have clarified same-sex spouses should are afforded equal rights in nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid. That rule was widely seen as redundant after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality nationwide.
Neither the Justice Department, not the Department of Health & Human Services, responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the letter.
Meanwhile, the LGBT Elder Americans Act, reintroduced by Bennet, would build on the Older Americans Act to include LGBT seniors as a vulnerable population and permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.
“Our laws and research are not current in addressing the unique needs of the aging generation of baby boomers,” Bennet said in a statement. “This legislation would provide LGBT seniors, who often face significant barriers to accessing health care, with targeted services and resources. By helping aging service organizations assist older LGBT adults and permanently establishing a National Resource Center, we will better meet the needs of the LGBT community.”
Baldwin, who’s running for re-election in the U.S. Senate next year and remains the only out lesbian in Congress, also emphasized the importance of the LGBT Elder Americans Act in a statement.
“We should guarantee all of our seniors access to the care that truly meets their needs and so I am proud to advance this legislation that will improve services and support for LGBT older adults,” Baldwin said. “Too many LGBT older adults carry the harmful physical and emotional health effects of having lived through a lifetime of discrimination. It is past time we do something about it and strengthen the Older Americans Act to better support our LGBT seniors.”
Last week, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) — along with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) — introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House known as the Ruthie & Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act, named for two LGBT elders who continue to fight for LGBT equality.
Michael Adams, CEO of the LGBT elder group SAGE USA, commended the lawmakers for introducing the legislation in a statement.
“LGBT elders, whose courage in the face of danger and adversity paved the way for progress on LGBT equality in recent years, deserve to be taken care of as they age, no matter where in the United States they live,” Adams said. “Our LGBT elder pioneers did not lead the movement birthed at Stonewall by being silent. We at SAGE follow their example by raising our voices in support of the Ruthie & Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2017 and to demand justice for this growing population.”